It occurred to me recently that the world is spinning on the wrong axis. Lockouts are popping up around the four major sports like Anthony Weiner photos on the Web. As amateur college football players strive to get paid, future NFL rookies will be paid considerably less. Welcome to the 100th Day of the NFL Lockout. If this were the NBA, fans would get one free soft taco at their nearest Taco Bell. The NFL has had significant lockouts before but for the first time in NFL history, the NFL lockout is occurring with millionaire athletes on the other side. It’s tough to pick sides in a lockout. It’s like asking Theo and Rudy Huxtable which parent they’d like to live with if Cliff and Claire hired divorce lawyers. In the NFL lockout, the fans are Theo and Rudy. The league has been here before but at least this time, the unpleasantries are being handled during the off-season.
The NFL endured a forgotten 57 day strike during the ’82 season but it’s the ’87 season that became the stuff of lore. In 1987, the NFLPA struck for over a month. In response, the owners hired replacement players who would normally have been cut from pre-season rosters and inadvertently spawned a film called The Replacements over a decade later. Both were extreme failures. After a few weeks, 89 players including Joe Montana, Tony Dorsett and Steve Largent crossed the picket lines. The lockout ended soon after.
The 1993 agreement, averted a lockout following Reggie White’s anti-trust class action lawsuit, abolished the NFL’s Plan B free agency and created the modern free agency system. And for a decade and a half, there was peace in the land…
In 2006, Bills owner Ralph Wilson and Bengals owner Mike Brown were the only owners to oppose the most recent collective bargaining agreement. Two years later, the other 32 owners unanimously agreed to opt out of the collective bargaining agreement.
Given the NFL’s popularity around the country, if the NFL is still in hiatus by September, don’t be surprised the first time an episode of American Idol is interrupted by DeMaurice Smith’s live primetime news conference from the Oval Office.
As the federal government and federal judges become more and more involved with professional sports and labor disputes, 2016 might be the first presidential debate to ask the question of how a candidate will resolve the NFL’s labor dispute. After all, this lockout is expected to cost each NFL city $160 million dollars if there is no NFL season. That rounds out to roughly $5 billion over 32 NFL cities.
At the crux of the NFL’s labor dispute are the owners requesting an additional $1 billion from the NFL’s $9 billion revenue because they claim it is becoming too expensive to operate franchise. Unfortunately, they’ve been unwilling to provide proof of the losses they’ve incurred. Despite the union’s requests, the owners have refused to open their financial books.
If you’ve ever seen Don’t Be A Menace in South Central, there is a slapstick scene which accurately describes the owners’ woes. It’s a quick scene when a homeless man collecting change, puts down his sign, removes his rags covering his suit and hops into his Benz.
Recently I heard someone question why the owners should have to share so much profit with their employees. However, professional athletes aren’t your ordinary employees.
For the same reasons, actors command millions per film, NFL players demand top dollar for their craft. They are the entertainment. The reason fans attend games, and spend money on merchandise. The comparisons of the NFL’s athletes to employees at the average corporation don’t hold water. 300-pound lineman, running backs with 4.3 speed and 6’4 quarterbacks with cannons for arms have a special skill set, a limited career time frame and risk debilitating injury everyday.
Athletes have a limited revenue window. There are no quarterbacks retiring at 65. While owners have limitless years at the helm of franchises, the average NFL career is shorter than four years. Bills owner Ralph Wilson is 93 years-old. Brett Favre defied the odds until 40.
The median player salary today is $770,000. The average net worth of an NFL owner is $ 1.2 billion and the average value of franchises has nearly doubled in the past fifteen years along with player compensation.
While multi-million dollar quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning and veterans such as Chad Ocho Cinco live lavishly, they’re not the norm. Their revenue is earned in quicker bursts than running back NFL Combine times.
Wal-Mart has 2 million employees worldwide. The NFL only has 1,500 active players on the rosters of its 32 teams. Conversely, the NFL’s 1,500 players are paid the equivalent of two million full-time employees. Another factor in the player’s advantage is that winning teams bring added revenue. To win, franchises need the best players, and as a result, owners bid for the top players in free agency. The NFL’s world is a delicate balance.
After dissolving their union, the players filed a players’ class action suit against the owners. In Brady v. NFL, the players requested an injunction, which essentially sought to stop the lockout and have the 2011 season played under the current collective bargaining agreement. The owners however, have requested lower pay scales for rookies, smaller maximum contracts and two more regular season games in addition to protecting their right to non-guaranteed contracts.
I’ve overheard fans say for weeks that neither side has considered their opinion in these negotiations. While, that may be partially true, from my perspective the players deserve to win the negotiation battle with the owners for a myriad of reasons.
For one, the players have actually put in an effort to win the public relations battle. During the lockout, the Saints have allowed fans to practice with them in organized workouts and players such as Ray Lewis have gone out of their way to emphasize the lockout’s effects on fans and cities.
The owners meanwhile have bunkered down and only interrupted their seclusion to return to the bargaining table. The only peep from the owners has been Jerry Jones disgracefully seeking the dismissal of a lawsuit over reimbursement of Super Bowl XLV tickets.
The owners have constantly asserted that the players receiving 60 percent of all revenue. In truth, the NFLPA receives 60 percent of the revenue after the owners $1 billion expense credit is set aside.
Under the previous CBA, the NFLPA receives $4.6 billion or 51 percent of the league’s total revenue. The owners collectively receive $3.4 billion plus the aforementioned $1 billion dollar expense credit, which accounts for 49 percent. With the additional $2 billion dollars the owners are asking for, the two sides would split $7 million instead of $8 billion.
Under the projected CBA, owners would receive $2.9 billion in addition to a $2 billion dollar expense credit for approximately 54 percent of the NFL’s revenue.
Ticket prices have progressively increased over the past two decades. If the owners get their extra billion dollars, I don’t believe the exorbitant ticket prices will decrease. So what is exactly will the extra $1 billion accomplish?
One of the reasons, the owners opted out of the CBA in 2006 was because they claimed it didn’t account for costs such as building stadiums. NFL owners want to double the $1 billion dollars that is set aside from the league’s $9 billion revenue stream for costs related to stadiums, marketing, NFL.com and the NFL Network.
New stadiums are often architectural wonders but result in even higher ticket prices. The trend in the past 15 years is to build a new stadium and hike ticket prices, like they’re tickets to Noah’s Ark. Since 1991, the average cost to attending an NFL game has increased 75% beyond inflation. Should we believe that an extra $1 billion dollars will result in lower ticket prices at NFL stadiums?
The true measures of whether the owners are greedy, depends on whether or not ticket prices and concession stand prices continue their rise after this labor dispute is resolved. Slowly but surely, the owners have budged on the 18 game season and their other demands. The players will have to make concessions to the owners as well. Then we’ll see if the owners make concessions to the fans.